How to Dance a Point in Time:

Louis Pécour's La Naissance de Monseigneur le Duc de Bretagne (1704) for the Jesuit College Louis-le-Grand

As a part of the rhetorical and theatrical education it offered, the 18th century Jesuit Ballet de Collège served to encourage personal development and to gain public recognition.  The terpsichorean enthusiasm of the French included that they attached great importance to dance education in general. Not only was dance an educational instrument, but also a popular form of entertainment communicating ethical values and political world views. Privileged by the king himself, honouring the royal family became sort of a programmatic strategy of Jesuit theatre and ballet, upheld by spoken panegyric prologues and Eloges du Roy on the one hand, and by the choice of subjects on the other. The annual ballet productions of the Parisian college Louis- le-Grand were created and choreographed by famous composers and ballet masters of the Paris Opera such as Louis Pécour. For the occasion of a royal baby’s birth in 1704, the latter invented the ballet La Naissance de Monseigneur le Duc de Bretagne in which the exact moment of birth is translated into dance; the ballet production was shown only six weeks after the actual event.

In my paper, I would like to present and discuss this 1704 livret in a close reading. In addition (and comparison), a Jesuit ballet with the very same title, staged in 1707 in Rennes, will be taken under consideration. Since the new-born of 1704 died after only 10 months, it will be questioned which Duc de Bretagne has been addressed in this later version – and how.

Hanna Walsdorf received her M.A. in Musicology from the University of Bonn (Germany) in 2006 and her Ph.D. in Musicology and Dance Studies from the University of Salzburg (Austria) in 2009; thesis: “Political Instrumentalization of Folk Dance in the German Dictatorships” (published as Bewegte Propaganda, Würzburg: K&N, 2010). From 2009–2013, she was a postdoc research fellow at the Collaborative Research Center 619 “Ritual Dynamics” at the University of Heidelberg (Germany), main publication: Die politische Bühne Ballett und Ritual im jesuitenkolleg Louis-le-Grand, 1701–1762 (Würzburg: K&N, 2012).  She now teaches history of dance at the University of Heidelberg and at Mannheim University of Music and Performing Arts. In December 2013, she was awarded the Emmy-Noether Grant by the DFG to set up her independent research group; Project: Ritual Design for the Ballet Stage: Constructions of Popular Culture in European Theatrical Dance (1650–1760). Her research interests include Folk Dance past and present, Baroque Dance and Theater as well as cultural and aesthetic transfer between these fields.

Hanna Walsdorf
Symposium Title: 
Dancing for Anniversaries and Occasions: Chamber, Court, Theatre & Assembly 2015
Author affiliation: 
University of Leipzig